March 2016: Mod Betty revisited Lowell and is sad to learn that Danas is closed for good. It looked a bit worse for wear as we pulled up, and when the gentleman who owned the antique store adjacent to Danas saw me trying the door, he kindly informed me that the owner had gone into a nursing home the previous spring.
I will admit, I did crouch down to peer under the shade that had been drawn on the door, and finally was able to snap a few of those photos I was denied all those years ago. But sadly, it was a hollow “victory” – I wanted the photos so I could share the wonder of it with you all, and now that can’t happen. And it would be disrespectful to still go against the wishes of the owner, especially now.
Here’s my original post from 2009, when Danas was still open. For posterity.
“Damn you Hollywood folks!” she says as she shakes her fist at the sky,”I don’t know what you did to irk the owner of Danas Fruit, Confectionery and Luncheonette in Lowell MA, but it is because of YOU that I cannot take any photos of the inside of this wonderful old time soda fountain and candy store!”
I had visited Danas well over 10 years ago when in Lowell, getting a dish of coffee ice cream at the counter and being delighted with the authentic vintage interior (since 1914 the sign says). We drove past Danas on the way back from my grandmother’s 90th birthday last year and I was delighted to see it still there, so when I was up in Mass again I knew I had to stop by so I could share it with you all.
I parked the car in the handy lot just across the way, and headed inside the shop. It was empty so I called out a friendly yet tentative “Hello?” and a gentleman appeared in the doorway from the Fruit Basket Central side of the store. I asked him for a lime rickey because of the big sign on the door, and sat down on one of the tall stools that lined the counter that ran along the right hand side of the shop.
As he was making my rickey (ice, soda water, real lime juice) I marveled at the original decor and drank it all in with my eyes. JACKPOT! Dark wood, old fashioned cabinets, display cases, hand lettered signage, tile floor- the more I looked the more cool stuff I saw. I commented to the nice gentleman how wonderful the interior was, and could I just snap a few photos?
To my surprise and horror he said, “No.”
Shocked and taken aback I echoed “No?” and he somewhat explained that the owner of the shop had allowed a movie to be filmed there once and he did not have a good experience with it, so he instituted the no photos policy. He gestured to a sign that was supposed to state that, but I was so caught up in the fact that this place was so great and I could not photo it, that I honestly did not even see what he was pointing to.
“OK” I thought to myself, “Plan B. Think of a plan B. Sit here as long as you can and jot down notes on everything you see, what every sign says, the colors, the textures, the lighting, everything in words and sketches, so you can somehow convey the feeling of stepping back into time to the folks reading about it on Retro Roadmap. OK, I can work with Plan B.”
But plan B was not to be!
As the man behind the counter finished up my rickey I saw him putting a cover on it, and when I said, oh I don’t need a cover, I’ll just drink it here, he explained that they were actually CLOSED (!) and the only reason he was there was because he was finishing up something on the other side. Now I did recall the door being a bit sticky to open, but I SWEAR I didn’t force myself into the place!
I made one last ditch plea to take some photos, but it was futile. Folks I’ve told this story to said I should’ve quickly taken some when the guy was not looking, but honestly, that felt like a bad karma move to me.
At least I found out the movie was called School Ties- filmed in 1991 starring Brendan Fraser and Chris O’Donnell, with a couple of then unknowns Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. I vaguely remembered hearing about this movie because it also had a scene shot at Skip’s Blue Moon Diner in Gardner MA.
Sure enough- there it is, right in the opening credits at the 2:22 mark!
They show some interior shots that have the same color palette as the real place, but it looks like smoke and mirrors were used to make it look larger than it is. If you look closely around the 3:50 mark you will see that they did not obscure the J.Danas embedded in the entryway tiles:
From what I’ve been able to unearth on the trusty internet, J. Danas was James Danas, one of three brothers who emigrated to Lowell MA and he established Danas Market in 1914. The market is currently run by James’ son, Peter, a retired math teacher, and his family. Danas still carries a few groceries for old times sake, but mainly is known for it’s fruit baskets, candy and ice cream. According to some accounts you can have a hot dog or bologna sandwich at the counter for lunch and wash it down with Moxie!
Dear readers, if you ever are in the Lowell MA area, do yourself a favor and check out the place for yourself. And do the rest of us a favor and see if you can get some photos of the interior! Here are some photos from when we stopped by last year:
(I will explain the corn cake and old fashion in an upcoming post!)
(Just down the street from the Owl Diner!)
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